Study Reveals Potential for Recreational Areas Along Charles River
Apr 29, 2019 06:00AM
By Pamela Johnson
BETA Engineering Landscape Architect Kelly Carr provides audience an overview of the study
story & photos by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer
On April 16, a dozen or so residents and town officials attended a meeting for public comment at the Bellingham town administration building, with Kelly Carr, Landscape Architect, of BETA Engineering. Carr displayed multiple maps she had created to give an overview of the Charles River Meadowlands and adjacent publicly owned lands. The area encompasses open space near the Charles River and Mine Brook (in Franklin), as these waterways travel through Franklin, Bellingham, and Medway.
Alan Earls, a Franklin resident, has been convening public meetings to stir up interest in helping make open space in this area more accessible for recreation, trails, canoe put-ins, and small parking areas.
Carr offered an overview of the three towns, with possible suggested linking trails to connect open space along or near the Charles River. The feasibility study she is conducting was funded by a $25,000 state grant, and it will use comments from this meeting and meetings in Medway and Franklin to offer a starting place for each town to assess where the most likely and useful areas are to develop additional trail and canoe access points near the river.
While the largest stakeholder near the Charles River and Mine Brook is the Army Corps of Engineers, the feasibility study also included other publicly owned properties on or near the river, with the focus to provide linkage between open spaces throughout each town. The final study should be concluded and available by early summer.
Carr cautioned those in attendance, “This is a feasibility study. If you see trails marked on the maps, they aren’t necessarily built. They are suggestions for what might be possible.” She continued, “We tried to avoid suggesting trails in wetlands. What looks possible begins right at the Bellingham town hall, behind the town administration building. The trails at High Street are quite close, but it would be necessary to cross the MBTA tracks (and the Charles River) to connect the trails.”
Carr brought up the work already done removing the dam on the Charles at the Caryville Mill on Pearl Street. “There is potential for a nature viewing area, trails, and more in this area of the river off Pearl Street,” she noted.
Cliff Matthews, Chairman of the Bellingham Conservation Commission, brought up the concern of impeding the flow of the river. He warned, “The Army Corps requires unimpeded flow for the river and surrounding wetlands. If any structure is built, there has to be an offset in adjacent land at the same level to maintain unimpeded flow of the waterway. If they had done this with the Mississippi River they wouldn’t be having the problems they have now. Newton never gets flooded because the flood plain for the Charles has been preserved.”
Referring to the Caryville Mill area, Matthews concurred with Carr that there is great potential along the river. “It would be a great picnic area; people are already using it for that now.”
Susan Speers of Metacomet Land Trust, which is overseeing this Meadowlands initiative, suggested signage about “Why remove dams” where the dam has now been taken out on Pearl Street.
Matthews observed, “The Charles at Pearl Street looks like a trout stream, with a gravel bottom. The river restored itself on its own when the dam was taken out.”
Carr provided information about neighboring towns and their access to the Charles River. Medway has several options for access and is working with a private developer along the Charles to preserve access and create trails to the Charles at the edge of their property. She noted that Franklin is in the process of constructing an 8-car parking area at the end of White Ave., off Pond Street, that will provide parking for trail use in the future. “The trails in that area need work,” Carr noted. “Trees have fallen across the trail and need to be removed.”
When Carr brought up the possibility of boardwalks through wetter areas, attendees were interested in the cost. She was unable to confirm exact cost, since conditions on the ground would dictate what type of boardwalk footings would need to be used.
Matthews noted that his concern was maintenance. “Security is a big concern. Bellingham is the largest stakeholder in this project; we need to remember that we purchase land for conservation purposes, and we don’t want to allow the land to be trashed. We have nearly 200 acres of land along the Charles already, and we are going to protect that. There is some spectacular stuff on our conservation land—vernal pools, water views—most people haven’t been out there to have that experience.”
Bellingham town planner Jim Kupfer explained that, going forward, “Our role is to talk to the landowner prior to the project.” Once the study is complete each town will need to consult with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine what is possible.
Matthews pointed out, “The logical plan is to start on High Street behind Victory Packaging, to create a canoe launch into the Charles River.”
Speers explained, “Each town can work at its own speed. I spoke with State Rep. Mike Soter prior to the meeting. I told him to look toward the following year for any requests for state funding. We won’t be ready for more state monies right away.
For more information about the Meadowlands, visit http://www.charlesrivermeadowlands.org.